All the President’s Men
by Carl Bernstein, by Bob Woodward
Simon and Schuster, 349 pp., $8.95
In his 1968 campaign, Nixon did a whistlestop tour of the Midwest, for “color.” His advance men recruited off-duty stewardesses, wearing “Nixonette” garb on the train, to jump off at each stop, run back to the Nixon car, and start cheerleading. One girl who got bored with this routine just sat in the dining car nursing her drink and complaining that the Secret Service men were even more flirtatious than journalists. “What about Nixon’s staff?” I asked—”Do they make any passes?” “Oh no,” she answered. “They’re prettier than we are.” She was looking out the window at Dwight Chapin. “They’re all such good little boys.” She did not know about ratfucking.
“Ratfucking” is a term of USC provenience—the University of Southern California being Chapin’s alma mater; and Ron Ziegler’s, and Gordon Strachan’s, and Bart Porter’s, and Donald Segretti’s. The term, used in campus politics, means sabotaging your opponent’s campaign, getting the “rats” all fucked up. Carl Bernstein came across the word while asking after USC people who might have known “Dirty Trickster” Donald Segretti. Investigative reporting is often a game of bluff—you pretend to know A for sure in order to get a confirmation of it, which might reveal something about B which you can confirm elsewhere, and make you aware for the first time of C. So Bernstein began dropping the term “to ratfuck” around people involved with the White House or the Watergate investigation. He hit pay dirt in a routine call to the Justice Department: “Ratfucking? You can go right to the top on that one.”
Campus politics is traditionally irresponsible because it is not “for real.” You can steal the other team’s mascot, and no moral question arises—it is not, say, like stealing a rival corporation’s research secrets. Campus life was conceived, at one time, as an interlude from reality, a hiatus from “the real world,” a time to blow off steam, experiment, be childish while trying on adult styles, temporarily. School has largely ceased to be that free-and-easy now; but the attitude perdured longest out in Beachboy-Land.
There was an air of high jinks about some of Segretti’s proposals—he tried to recruit nonideological types by telling them how much “fun” it could be. But traducing Hubert Humphrey, helping to end in squalor a long serious career in politics, is not like taunting the leader of a rival fraternity to get him rattled. Besides, for the ideologues in charge, ratfucking was a deadly serious business. Bob Haldeman is much too fierce to pose convincingly as a Dick Tuck in the Oval Office (where even the real Dick Tuck would be out of place). Still, “Dick Tuck stuff” was the polite equivalent for ratfucking that the ratfuckers had to use in public. These were men for whom the Interlude From Reality became a lasting state, and high jinks turned to a grim code of punishment for such spoiled “Big Men …